Chapter Three

The morning air continues to grow sweeter with each day of Young Summer, made sweeter still with the lingering taste of the golden fruits the join him with each sunrise.

Thæon sits now, greeting the late-morning warmth from where he sits in his favoured spot on the rock shelf, high enough from the water’s edge that Bröder can’t splash him should he go traipsing into the water.

As it happens, he’s scavenging for his own food amongst the trees, keeping himself entertained where the dragon had declined to join him; the beast sunning himself just like Thæon, but he’s claimed a spot east of the river, wings splayed wide, neck stretched out as he snores softly in harmony to the whispering winds.

He is majestic, even when simply dozing; his hind leg kicking out in response to his daydreams and Thæon can feel a smile on his lips, closing his eyes once more, face to the sun.

It has been three weeks since Thæon and Bröder climber the mountain slope side by side; three weeks since the trespassers stumbled their way into early graves and Thæon has yet to find a warning that there are more, still hunting.

The day following their intrusion, after having soothed the dragon and encouraged by his exhaustion that saw him sleeping, Bröder curled up next to him, Thæon had retraced the steps of the bastards; the task easy where they hadn’t seen the need to try an conceal their passing in any shape or form.

Over the following days, he patrolled a makeshift border, sometimes accompanied by both, sometimes only the dragon trailing behind him with a cautious inquisition to the wilds. But there were no humans other than himself on this mountain and as they days bleed into weeks, Thæon’s guard began to relent.

He still walks the perimeter when the air is particularly cold, or the night is too long and Thæon feels unsettled in the core of his soul, but those walks show nothing to betray that of a human’s curiosity poking around, other than his own footsteps trailing in the soft earth, and they’ve grown infrequent; Thæon lowering his guard to simply enjoy the warming summer days; building a trust with the dragon as he comes to understand him more deeply than just a charge given to him by the sleeping gods.

And Theon nearly went and screwed things up by calling him Obí.

It had been a slip of the tongue, his mind having been playing with a self-imposed dilemma that calling for the dragon by saying “hey” or “you” was insulting and degrading when he had shown, on multiple occasions that he was as intelligent as Thæon—certainly even more so—and he’d been turning names over in his head, wondering if he could ask, wondering if it was insulting for a human to know a dragon’s name, then amusing himself with the thought it wasn’t like the dragon could slip into the common tongue to tell him, or he would’ve done so by now.

He had said it on accident, the dragon lounging in the river on a particularly hot day, having decided lazing was boring and had come to budge the outlander in invitation to play and Thæon had been turning over suggestions on the tip of his tongue when it had just slipped out; an innocuous “cut it out Obí.”

The dragon had tilted his head, crooned an unheard question and Thæon hadn’t meant to insult him, he just thought the name was fitting. Privately he can prefer offering a different name, such as one of the Enaran but maybe that in itself was crossing a line.

Despite Thæon’s reservations, Obí seemed to appreciate his name.

Besides, it suited him.

He is childish, skittish and clingy; wrapping close to Thæon when they settle beneath the fruit trees come evening. He is patient and playful, and has taken to copying him in what Thæon can only guess to be a game; going as far as to imitate him when he sharpens his swords by scratching at the ground; churning up the week soil and tearing at the grass roots until the meadow was dotted with bare patches of soil that encouraged the black-winged bora to scour the earth for fallen seeds and bugs brought closer to the surface.

Thæon had been amused at first, watching Obí try and sharpen his claws as he himself sharpened his swords; mud being ineffective against stone-talons; having listened when Thæon suggested he use the trees trunks instead, not sure if scratching at stones would be too much—the feeling of his own fingers clawing at rock sending a shudder down his own spine at the thought—and was proud when Obí did just that.

By the week’s end, nearly every tree surrounding the meadow had been stripped of its bark; a few having fallen to his overpowering strength.

The copying continued; each action far more confusing than the last.

Thæon caught Obí imitating him; gathering sticks and stones and arranging them seemingly randomly whenever the boy collected his own things from his pack, searching for his whetstone or fishing lines or a change of clothes; the dragon even going as far as imitating him whenever he tried to speak, although that game got old quickly, Thæon forgetting himself for a moment and having raised his voice, palms sparking.

Usually Thæon took pride when others took note of his anger and gave him a wide berth, but when Obí had fled to the other side of the river, timid and small where he ducked into the shadows and watched fearfully from behind bark-less trees Thæon had been struck by a discomfort that weighed heavy in his gut; as if he had eaten stones.

He had apologised after, when the night grew cold and the campfire beckoned him closer; Obí having crept meekly into his own nest, nose turned away and eyes downcast for the length of time it took for Thæon to apologise. He had only snapped once, but Obí was quick to realise that such games were left to be played with Bröder.

Over the two weeks, the three of them had grown accustomed to one another’s company.

But what surprised Thæon the most, was how Obí has come to trust him.

He didn’t realise how far that trust went, until one night, when the Fireheart had sparked a flame to cook the fish that was to be his meal for the evening; following a routine that he had fallen into with ease; and Obí came to nose at his fingers with a gentle concern. He had curled his lips in soundless words; his muzzle nudging as delicately as he was able against Thæon’s palms; sniffing as if in search of something unseen.

With a whine in the back of his throat, it wasn’t too much of a far fetch to guess that Obí was concerned. He was still fearful of the fire, and that fear bled from his heart with the worry that using his magic to summon flames meant that Thæon burnt himself.

He thought that an amusing thought when first considered; Obí being a dragon and all, and far more in-tune with magic than he could ever hope to understand; touched by his dragon nonetheless and Thæon couldn’t keep the smile from his lips when he had him, again, that that was not true; reassurances spilling forth until it was that his own fire fluttered like a heartbeat across his scales; Obí’s the dragon’s eyes alight in a cautious mix of awe and uncertainty until he realised that the fire was nothing more than a lick of warmth; like the touch of soft furs over his skin.

Thæon had watched as Obí’s eyes began to warm to the sight; his shoulder losing the tension of fear that carved them into cragged edges and sharp rocks; until it was that he was confident enough to conjure his own flame once again. He had urged him incessantly; wanting Obí to push past the harrowing memory of having his used his fire as a weapon when it was clear that he had been backed into a corner. There had been no reason to hold back his elation when Obí had sparked a flame all his own.

Now, he is at peace with the fire burning inside of him, comfortable enough to heat the nest before laying down to sleep; and it wasn’t like Thæon had done much—or maybe he had; maybe he had more than he could fathom—but there was a sense of pride that lifted him every time Obí would snap at him in jest, and little sparks of fire fanned from his mouth in simulacra to a threat that wasn’t real.

Thæon opens one eye, glancing to where Obí lays now; his head in encore to Bröder’s gurgling’s where he’s grabbing at his horns in invitation to come explore the woodland with him.

He’s brushed off where Obí doesn’t have the energy to continue, having already spent most of the morning traipsing around after him, but if there is anything Bröder has learned from Thæon it is stubbornness and he continues to tug on the dragon’s horns, batting at his face and dropping berries in front of his nose because the calf thinks more with his stomach than he does his head and he reasons that Obí must be the same.

Maybe if Bröder dropped a deer carcass in front of him he might get a stronger reaction, because Thæon knows only his hunger is going to shift the overgrown lizard from where he lays, sprawled on the grass in direct embrace of the sun’s warmth.

His wings lay draped around him like a large red blanket; his tail swaying idly side to side to brush the grass and make the flowers sway in his conjured wind; the same, prideful smile making itself known upon Thæon’s face without him even conscious of it.

The berries that Bröder keeps trying to offer him must do something to spur Obí’s hunger because it isn’t long until he shifts from where he’s laid, taking himself to the river’s edge.

With the air warm enough to prickle a thirst in the back of Thæon’s mind even when he sits in mock meditation, he can understand the dragon’s desire to quench his thirst. But Obí shows hunger instead, and chases the river fish from the shallow reeds, jaws snapping in clumsy cracks of teeth; ungraceful and clumsy as he catches the taste of fish that couldn’t hardly sate his appetite.

But it is Obí’s favoured meal, even if he graciously accepts the leftover carcass of whatever beast Thæon had been able to hunt that day; Obí himself going as far as to ignore the deer and the wild pigs that nosed at the border of his territory; feasting simply on what he scooped from the stream, washing it down with mouthfuls upon mouthfuls of water, as if he were trying to fill himself—

Thæon’s head snapped up to where Obí bared his teeth at the river as the idiot cursed himself colourfully enough he was surprised the gods didn’t strike him down for such vulgarity. It’s been over three weeks and he hadn’t thought to consider it before now, and yet suddenly it’s glaringly obvious that Obí doesn’t simply favour fish, he’s a dragonling that doesn’t know how to hunt!

Thæon could hit himself. Or at the very least throw himself off the rock shelf into the frigid river water, because it’s not just the fact that he hasn’t realised that his dragon, his charge, his responsibility doesn’t know how to hunt, but that he’s pretty much starving and he’s… he’s…

Thæon does hit himself: in the head, palm open, slapping his forehead with enough force it stings like a graze. In the same moment, Obí’s patience snaps and he lets loose a vicious snarl, scaring the birds from the trees as a plume of fire erupts from his mouth and paints the river with the colours of a firebird; the dragon disappearing behind a sudden explosion of steam.

“You know that you’re cheating by doing that,” Thæon says, trying to hide his self-disappointment behind a forced nonchalance. Obí swings his head to him, snorting what could be laughter, or maybe residual annoyance, before bending down to scoop up the fish that had been too close to the surface. But it wasn’t nearly enough to quantify as a meal.

A growing dragonling needed more than fish bones and river water.

Thæon leaned closer to the shelf edge, swinging his legs over the expanse as he looked down at the river. It wasn’t incredibly high, but he was greeted with the all-too familiar twisting in his gut that felt like he’d swallowed a live snake; the prickling of cold against his skin making him want to withdraw, but the boy is anything if not stubborn and he forces himself to stay, pushing himself closer to edge in defiance of his trepidation; pushing his mind to watch Obí instead of the something-foot drop into the fast-flowing river below.

“It’s not like you can live on meagre scraps of fish. You should be hunting,” he says, trying not to sound like he’s pushing him into his plan, but perhaps more like he’s poking the edges, trying to understand if Obí doesn’t know, or if there’s something else that’s keeping him from filling himself.

If he is simply bad at hunting then Thæon can teach him. If there’s another reason that he’s willing to nearly starve himself, then…. Well.

“There are plenty of deer and predators that you can hunt,” he says, watching carefully should Obí explain without explicating explaining. “You’d have no trouble taking down the wolves. Heck, even a bear wouldn’t be no trouble for you. I don’t think that there’s anything that could break through your scales, so it’s not like you have anything to fear out here.”

Asides from humans, but Thæon knows when to keep his mouth shut.

While Thæon tries not to worry that he’s crossing some unseen line, Obí pushes his way upstream to stand beneath where Thæon’s legs dangle. He’s tall enough that even in the deep water if barely comes up to the base of his neck, but there’s enough force of water that he has to physically fight against the flow to keep himself close enough; ultimately getting bored with the not-fun game, instead digging his claws into the rock face and hauling himself from the water.

The rock ledge isn’t entirely vertical, but it’s steep enough that Obí has to use his wings to help; each wings stretched out on either side of him, beating in their effort to take the weight off his hind legs as he climbs.

Thæon shifts back to give him space; breathing through gritted teeth as his stomach twists painfully from thought of Obí’s tail knocking him over the ledge. And yet the dragon is particular in his movements; careful and precise as he settles himself around Thæon, taking up a similar comfort to that which joins them each night next to the campfire: body close enough for Thæon to lean back against him while his head snakes to pillow on an arm, his nose a solid weigh against his thigh.

Mindlessly, Thæon reaches out to him, running his fingers over Obí’s snout; the pair of them having grown close enough that it almost feels natural for a line of touch to run between the pair of them, either from Thæon’s hand reaching to pet, or Obí nuzzling in close.

He does so now, huffing air out his nostrils as if in laughter.

Thæon won’t let himself be distracted however, and pushes on.

“There are plenty of deer that you should be able to hunt. And I know it’s not like it would be all that hard for me to hunt for you,” he says, Obí having often eaten the leftovers after Thæon had taken his fill of that day’s hunt; “but I think it’s better that you can hunt for yourself. I know you can do it.”

He can feel a plan beginning to form on the edge of his mind, a smile on his lips at the wonder if this was how his father had felt when he had given him his first hunting knife, and taking him down to the farrows where the wild herds roamed. He had been patient, indulgent with Thæon’s excitement as he taught him how to watch them; teaching him how he should leave the mothers and their young; the importance of not over-hunting one herd over another; that there was a balance to the world the gods tended that he must honour and respect with the same reverence he had held the gods.

“I thought I had listened. Or I guess I listened to what I wanted, because to me, hunting in the farrows and in the Tall Pines wasn’t enough of a challenge, even when I was still a child.”

The words fall from his lips like rain drops; a knot of emotion lodged in his throat that catches Thæon’s words and silences them. He doesn’t like talking about his family. He doesn’t much like talking about himself, but the words were there before he realised. He had found something peaceful in the dragon’s company: peace in knowing that Obí doesn’t truly know him, only seeing that which Thæon wishes him to.

Its why he deliberately keeps his back covered, and ignores Obí’s unspoken questions when he noses at the scars on his arms.

It’s easier to talk about the success of his first trial rather than the truth of how, or why it came to be, and so Thæon talks of how he had set out before first light, how he had been foolish but determined anyway—all boys were foolish when they were children; even Thæon in this—having taken his hunting knife and his father’s spearhead without looking back. And when he had descended the mountain that evening, he had done so laden with the heavy pelt of the akrren panthera and the confirmation of his strength.

“Did your family show you how to hunt?”

The question seemingly springs from him, unexpected as much from the dragon as it is from Thæon; the pair of them sitting stiff in tension, and Thæon inwardly curses his own numb-brained thought that it would be a good idea to mention family; something he had been deliberately avoiding for the past however-long because it’s more than blatantly obvious that Obí’s family are no longer around and it’s not like he needs to be reminded of that.

In apology, Thæon settles his hand on his head again, traces shapes, eyes on his hands to give Obí the semblance of privacy. He doesn’t pull away, having learnt that that speaks words Thæon would never say; that Obí will be sombre and withdrawn following, and Thæon is loath to be the reason for the dragon to think he’s any kind of inadequate.

Obí leans into the offered touch, eyes flicking to Thæon’s in unspoken emotion. It wasn’t like he was expecting an answer—it wasn’t like Obí could actually give him an answer, but he crooned softly anyway, leaning deeper into the boy’s ministrations. With the way his voice seemed to rise and fall, catching, slightly, it was almost as if he was trying to speak, trying to use actual words, like he had forgotten that Thæon couldn’t understand him, or maybe he ached to fill the loneliness as much as Thæon wished to ignore his own; simply going through the m options if only for some sense of relief.

The boy in question curls his fingers beneath Obí’s cheeks, rushing over the scars hidden in the pattern of scales.

While he wasn’t able to understand what it was he was saying, he can understand that the pitching sound wasn’t something to convey happiness. The memories spoken might be, but they were discoloured with the truth that Obí was mourning those out of reach.

“You miss them, don’t you?”

Obvious, really, and not something that Obí needed to answer, but the dragon whines despite himself as if they really are talking and not just throwing sounds back and forth; the dragon caught by the emotion he admits and, without warning, he tears himself away from Thæon’s ministrations, up on his feet, shaking out his body from where he’s been curled up, growling and huffing air.

Thæon scrambles to his feet beside him. There’s the returning weight of guilt—a sensation that he is becoming familiar with; a thought he does not want to entertain—and he’s quick to trail his hands along the dragon’s scales, and his spines; fingers twisting around the little bumps that will one day grow into horns and holding the dragon fast. He rests one hand on his cheek.

“C’mon. I’m going to teach you how to hunt something bigger than fish,” Thæon says, the words out in the open before he could give it any real thought.

It’s not like he knows the first thing about showing Obí how to hunt, and while he had taught his friends; having been taught months before his friends simply from the expectation of his parents and the elders, to teach a dragon how to track, stalk and kill would be a challenging in and of itself. All he knew is that it was going to be vastly different to how Thæon learnt to track his prey, but it’s not like it’s going to be impossible. Obí is far more intelligent than the hunting dogs, and it’s not like they can stay in the meadow until Obí starves to death—

“There’s plenty of animals in the forest and I want to see you put your strength to the test,” Thæon says, slightly louder, not wanting to entertain that trail of thought any longer. He pushed it from his mind focusing on the excitement at watching Obí show him the true measure of his strength. “We’ll see who can take down the largest deer.”

And that is why they’re walking through the forest not a moment later, Obí seemingly trying to tuck himself into Thæon’s shadow as he takes the lead, having grabbed his grey-green hunting cowl from his bag, his bow slung over one shoulder, knives at home in their sheaths more for the security of being armed with something more than whittled wood in case they are to come face to face with a hunter or a trapper from the village. He has his fire magic always at hand too, so it’s not like they’re in danger, but Thæon doesn’t want to be responsible for needless death.

He had chosen the slopes west of the meadow—even if the barest tracks kept tugging them north—for the sole purpose of keeping a distance from the hunting grounds. South would’ve been preferred, but there is little wildland between Obí’s meadow and the scree slopes that don’t hold enough vegetation to support a single deer, let alone a herd. East was another option, but to even begin meant crossing the river and it was just easier for Thæon if he didn’t.

So west, north-west it was; he in the lead and Obí following dutifully behind.

Sun rays broke through the canopy like gold columns of light, illuminating the forest path and the few cobwebs that still glittered with the morning dew where the sun had yet to brush them away. Trees lined the path Thæon forged: giant pillars holding up the green canopy from where their branches had bowed over and entangled themselves, to form a world of a thousand colours of green. The air was thick with the smell of earth, sweet flowers and tree sap; the tree roots blanketed with the soft green moss, from which grass and wild flowers bloomed, decorating the emerald with rubies, amethysts, azures and crystals, diamonds and pearls.

The trickle of a small feeder river played, uninterrupted, to the gentle hum of the forest life, and Thæon couldn’t keep the smile off his face.

They come to a small patch of wild daises that Thæon notices have been picked at, and there are definite tracks circling around the edge. He’s quick to point them out to Red, dragging his attention from whatever had caught it, pushing aside the grasses to find the more distinctive heart-shaped hoofprints.

“These are deer tracks,” he says, tracing them with his finger to make the shapes more obvious as to what he’s trying to show. “There are three of them. Look, you can tell because of the size and this here, see that edge there, is where the animal has a chipped hoof or has had a stone stuck beneath the pads of her feet. She’s limping—you can tell that because there’s not that much depth to her left, meaning she’s trying not to bare weight on that leg,” Thæon explains.

“When I hunt, I track animals by their footprints, or by finding their fur caught on bracken,” gesturing to the path that the deer had used, how it winds through the bracken, bringing them to the shallows; worn enough to show that it was a thoroughly-used through road, indicating that there is a high possibility that they’ll find a herd to hunt close by, or the stragglers that have wandered from their own. Closer to Obí’s meadow than previously thought, but if he hasn’t been hunting the herds then the deer’s basic survival instinct is what is keeping them away, rather than a certain threat.

“For you it will be a little different. See if you can smell anything,” Thæon says, keeping his hand on Obí’s muzzle to guide him closer. He doesn’t know how much he needs to know, or just how much he understands. He doesn’t have any practice when it comes to teaching another to hunt—he’s shown Torra how he cares for his knife, his swords and how he restrings his bow, and I’dl had asked for his help when it came to skinning a long-ears—but he’s teaching a dragon of all things.

Maybe it was best not to overthink things.

“There’s something else too,” he says, gesturing to a flurry of markings where something had been digging in the soft ground.

Obí leaned in, curious, his head pushing Thæon out the way, sniffing hard while he tried to figure out what creature it might be. It took a moment, but then the dragon was moving, and Thæon couldn’t hide his excitement that Obí was following the scent; glancing back to the marks near his feet. He wasn’t sure what creature had made them: they were too small to indicate a passing long-ears, and it wasn’t like they furrowed for food, seeing as they only eat grass and it’s not like—

Suddenly a panicked squeak echoed up just as something small and furry leapt up at Obí from within the bush he was sniffing; Obí rearing up in shock at being frightened, letting out his own giant bellow that, in turned, frightened Thæon—although he would always firmly deny it.

It turns out that the creature that left the marks is the rat that is currently trying to fight a grown ass dragon. The same dragon that has fallen on its hind, kicking out as the small furry little rodent jumps and squeaks at him, like it is personally offended that Obí dared to sniff him, before running back into the reed, slipping into the water and swimming for greener pastures.

Thæon can hardly smother his cackling behind his hands, laughing harder when Obí turns on him, all four feet suspended in the air, tail twisted around a tree, wings splayed out and looking like downright hilarious that it makes Thæon double over with laughter. “Oh god’s above, you should’ve seen your face!” he grins, waving off the way Obí’s face twists into a scowl.

“Oh come on, don’t look at me like that. It was funny! You got scared by a bloody rat that was no bigger than your finger nail. You’re a dragon, Arenthíen be blinded, and you—” he gestured with his hand at the way Obí is still slumped on his side, his body all twisted and ungraceful. “The rat was tiny. And you’re huge.”

At least Obí could somewhat see the funny side of it. It took him a moment, in which he righted himself—struggling with his weight and clunky size—grumbling under his breath as he did so, but at least there was the ghost of a smile on his lips.

“I’m going to take down a bigger deer than you,” Thæon says, throwing his head over his shoulder, to pull Obí back into his plans of teaching him how to hunt, making enough room so that they could both crouch near the deer tracks, the pair of them deliberately ignoring the rat’s digging.

“Here. Try again,” he says, encouraging Obí closer. “See if you can find something different to what you smelt earlier.”

And Obí, with his nose to the ground, eyes narrowed in concentration, tries again.

Thæon shifts backwards as he takes long, deep breaths, pushing closer and closer to the ground, searching beyond whatever he could smell. There was an eagerness to his movements, like there was something pulling him in; Thæon encouraging when Obí lifts his head from hoofprints and begins to circle the shallows, towards the wild daisies and the water reeds.

He tries to hold off on his own worry, knowing that Obí won’t immediately get it straight away—gods only knowing how many things he can smell right now; how many animals have used this river water crossing—wanting to remain positive for him and pushing down his own hunger for red meat.

Fish was good and all, but Thæon had his preferences.

Obí moves away from the surrounding underbrush, heading back towards the river.

Thæon wondered what had caught his attention, half a mind on trying to catch sight of signs of deer and wanting to just step back and watch Obí explore the world around him. He kept sniffing at the water, which meant he probably caught scent of the rat again and, rolling his eyes, Thæon followed after, picking his way through the shallows while Obí traced the surface to the other side of the river.

“What have you found then?” he asks, a hand on the dragon’s flank, steadying himself when the water creeps above his knees and the flow of water makes it hard to see where he should place his feet.

Obí doesn’t reply. He simply pushes further across the river, skipping, nearly running as excitement grabs hold of him. Thæon is right behind him, pulled in by the sudden change, and he can’t tell if he’s surprised, relived or proud when Obí nudges him closer to a sundry hoofprints in the mud. There are more than three deer, Thæon realises, wondering if Obí has figured much the same.

“Well done,” he says, grinning, running his hand above Obí’s eye, laughing along to the chuffing he makes in reply.

“Well, go on then. See if you can find them. But remember to be quiet,” he calls, just when the dragon makes to scamper off, and Thæon has to supress a laugh when Obí slows down, deliberate in picking up his feet and holding his tail high.

“Well done,” he says, under his breath, glancing around at the prints underfoot, eyes lingering on Obí’s out massive clawprint; the deep indentation that wouldn’t need a trained eye to find, or a trained mind to understand it is neither wolf nor bear.

Pride and worry blur their colours together. But Thæon doesn’t want to worry when they are still so far from the village and it’s hunting territories, so he pushes the rising thoughts to the back of his mind and takes off after Obí, just as graceful as the deer they chase yet much quieter than the beast that leads them on their hunt.

The sun shines high above them as Obí leads them after the scent; snuffling at the dirt, weaving in and around trees while Thæon keeps an eye out for tracks and tufts of fur caught on the bracken, because he wasn’t used to being so blind when following an animal’s trail.

There are plenty of signs to direct him towards the deer that have not long since passed through here; easily followable tracks heavy in the mud where they had picked up the pace, having broken through bushes in their haste, breaking twigs, kicking up grass. Obí left their trail, seemingly distracted by something, leaving Thæon to move on just a little bit more, noticing a break in the trees ahead; golden sunlight pouring from above, the world bejewelled in wonderous colours that parted to give way to a meadow, much smaller than the dragon’s.

It wasn’t a meadow, in fact, but a small glade that had been created when four large oak trees laid themselves to rest, having been uprooted by an old storm but give invitation to the afternoon sun and a burst of lilac meadow flowers, among which five deer graze: a mother and two young, beside two juvenile bucks that are more interested in eating than fighting one another. They both still have their antlers, and beautiful sizes where there is no shortage of food.

Thæon steals closer, a hand reaching to his hood to pull it over his head and shoulders, kneeling into the nook of roots to conceal himself. He doesn’t realise he’s reaching for his bow until it’s in his hand, an arrow nocked already.

But he was teaching Obí to hunt, not simply searching for a creature that will sate his appetite for the next few days.

Obí is still sniffing; searching for something a fair distance away—easily spotted considering his cloak of vibrant garnet scales—but it’s not like Thæon can call to him when it will scare off their prey. He could always wait until Obí satisfied whatever curiosity had caught him, but there was the possibility that he’d forget himself entirely and scare the deer himself.

With a quick prayer sent to the Wild Goddess, stars bless Fellfrir’s name, and Thæon brought his hands to cup his mouth, imitating a great-horned-owl’s call, in hopes that it would catch the young dragon’s attention.

He repeats himself when it doesn’t work the first time.

Thæon is in luck when Obí turns to face him, searching; Thæon quick to lift a finger to his lips to remind him the need for stealth. Something that he almost ruins himself when the dragon comically slows his approach, deliberately picking up his feet once more, lifting his tail off the ground so it doesn’t slither through the grass and alert their prey that there was something on their tail.

When Obí spies the deer through the treeline, he freezes, his entire body rigid like he was made of stone, eyes transfixed on the five grazing.

“Leave the doe,” Thæon tells him, repeating the words his father had told him so many times on their hunts. It was about respecting the balance of the hunt; a moment of uncertainty wavering his voice when Obí doesn’t acknowledge him, not even with a flick of his ears.

He moves closer, his body bunching up like a cat preparing to pounce, and Thæon had always compared Obí to the way Bröder moved and gambolled—ungraceful and childish—but in this moment he is reminded of the truth that he stands beside an incredibly powerful predator.

Thæon feels excitement coursing through him, undertoned with a sense of fear that any creature would feel when looking upon a fearsome beast that could tear him to shreds without any real effort. Thæon forces himself to focus on the hunt instead, readjusting his grip on the bow to line up the white diamond of fur that paints the brow of the buck that faces him, drawing the bowstring tight.


Obí purrs.


In the instant Thæon raised his voice, the deer raised their heads, turning to the sound. His arrow flew free as Obí cleared the line of trees in one gigantic bound.

Thæon’s eyes were drawn from the trajectory of his volley to the might of the crimson king; wings stretched out wide to catch the wind that carries him for a moment, claws cast wide in front of him, Obí’s precision of ebony spears piercing the neck of the second deer in the same moment Thæon’s arrow stabs between the deer’s scapula, piercing its heart: granting instantaneous and painless death.

“Yes, yes!” he cheered, arms raised high in victory as he peeled away from his hiding place near the oak, crossing the divide to come to stand by his kill, pulling his bowstring over his chest to free up his hands as he congratulated the dragon. “There you go, I knew you could do it,” he says, ebullient, grinning at him where he stands protectively over his own slay.

And while the moment calls for celebration, Thæon is Angren and the traditions of his clans must come first. Even if his devotion has wavered in the past there are some that are so deeply ingrained into habit by his family and his foundations that Thæon doesn’t think twice to take a knee beside the young buck as it bleeds from the arrow in its heart.

His prayer is as soft as a kiss, spoken in the same instant that Thæon pulls his arrow free. The blood that stains his fingers are wiped upon the deer’s brow and over its face as he closes its eyes; thanking the sacrifice it has made and thanking the gods for their part in his victory—the stubborn childish voice in his head drowned out by a deep reverence he hasn’t held in many years—before hoisting the buck onto his shoulder, turning to where the dragon is waiting.

There’s a faint touch of distance to his gaze, his eyes transfixed upon Thæon as he makes his way closer, eyes flickering over the blood dripping from his claws and the open neck of the buck still held beneath his front paw: an animals’ instinct to protect his kill kicking in, despite Thæon having his own food held on his shoulder.

He can see Obí’s bottom lip held between his fangs; the corners of his mouth pulled into a hopeful, yet nervous smile; a myriad of emotion in his eyes as if waiting for Thæon to be anything other than proud of him.

The fool.

“I knew you could do it,” he grins, baring his own teeth as he stops opposite, not wanting to challenge his instinctive behaviour so soon after Obí has made a kill. “You never know. Next time we might end up stumbling across a bear. Then we can have some real fun.”

That causes him to groan loudly, scrunching up his nose, like he considered the idea to be unbearable. But there was something else behind it to, with the way he pressed his claws deeper into the earth, a half-formed snarl directed towards his kill and a deep look of concentration alight in his eyes when he stared down at it.

Sensing the need for a distraction, Thæon adjusts the deer on his shoulder and turns back towards the mountain slopes. “C’mon, we should head back to Bröder before the blood does end up attracting a bear,” he says. “As much as it would be a fun challenge, I don’t exactly want to go toe to toe with one when I’m only armed with my bow and hunting knife. It’s not like I could let you have all the fun, you know.”

Of course he has his fire, so it’s not like he’s in any real danger, but that takes away the rush of adrenaline when taking on such a creature.

Thæon heads off first, giving Obí the space he needs to put to rest whatever thoughts have caught his attention. He’s barely taken three steps before he hears the sounds of the dragon moving to follow.

He finds a smile on his lips and a tune warming his lips as he glances up at the sun, determining that it hadn’t taken them long to reach the glade—an hour and no more—and that it would take them about the same time to return, considering they’re not tracking, but are moving uphill and Thæon now has a sizeable buck weighing heavily upon his—

Suddenly he’s stumbling forward, a larger, unexpected weight having nudge him from behind and Thæon is cursing Obí’s name before he manages to catch himself, being forced to drop the buck otherwise he’d end up flat on his face, all thanks to a stupid dragon.

“What in Arenthíen’s name—?” he snarls, turning on him, stepping back to avoid his dragon who nudges him again, unrelenting until Obí shoves particularly hard and Thæon half trips into Obí’s shoulder, lowered, just as is the rest of him that is familiar in a way that Thæon can’t describe, but it feels so….

“What the fuck are you doing?” he asks, trailing off when the dragon presents his neck to him, and Thæon is struck mute for a moment to long, reaching out without thought, finger tips tracing the Obí scales glittered with black and those that shine a deep midnight blue when the sun hits them just right; feeling the heat of Obí’s inner fire burning strong beneath it all.

And he’s not sure—he’s not certain, but maybe there’s a chance—maybe he isn’t a fool to believe that… that…

“You want me to… climb on?”

Obí’s purring grows louder, encouragingly, and Thæon doesn’t bother hiding the grin that spreads wide across his face, ignoring the way his stomach swoops and dives and curls itself into knots as he moves closer.

There’s no hesitation, no reason to hold back and Thæon swings his leg over Obí’s neck; the dragon a solid weight beneath his legs, warm and unwavering and familiar.

His hands grab hold of Obí’s largest horns, his knees pressing in just behind his ears while he hooks his feet into the groove of two plates on his throat as Obí lifts himself up; Thæon’s grip tightening. His stomach swoops again, like a migration of birds have made a home in his stomach, but it’s not a sickening feeling as the ground falls away from him—not fear either, even though Thæon has never had the head for heights and even the rock ledge by the river sometimes makes him feel a little light-headed.

Thæon was astride Obí. He was astride a dragon.

He was riding a dragon!

Just like in the stories of the Evis Anaïyr that formed the clans under the dragon’s guiding light, Thæon too, sat astride a mighty beast.

That feeling alone swamped any consideration of fear that he might’ve had as Obí shifts beneath him, leaning over to Thæon’s kill, snagging it by its antlers and turning to sling it between his shoulder blades where his own lay, held in place by his raised wings.

He crooned low and soft in his throat, and Thæon was sure that he could understand him; grinning “I’m ready,” as his hands curling tighter around his horns, leaning into the curve of his neck. He lets out a shrill whoop as Obí leans backwards and, suddenly, plunges forward.

Thæon could feel the power of the dragon between his legs. He could feel the rhythm of Obí’s sturdy muscles as he pounded the ground with his feet in time like a steady beat, feeling the wind race past, tousling his hair; feeling the flow of rhythm when his body began to rock back and forth, his knees pressed against Obí’s sides, his feet gently resting in the groove of his plates.

Thæon could feel the thump of Obí’s heartbeat surging through his body, until his too, fell in time to the dragon’s.

Thæon felt a laugh rip from between his lips. He hadn’t ridden like this before; not fast and smooth; Obí racing over the ground almost as if he were flying rather than running. Of course Bröder was strong and fast, but sitting astride a kioea and settled behind a dragon’s crown of horns was a completely different experience.

Thæon allowed himself to forget about everything: every worry he harboured—not considering his fear of heights, of the worry that he would be enough to nurture this beast that carries him, of the chilling terror that comes with the growing nightmares should Obí ever be discovered—

Thæon forgets about everything; focusing on nothing more than the thundering sound of Obí’s paws as they pound the earth and carry the pair of them up the mountain slope.

He urges Obí to go faster; Obí complying, and they chase the river upstream, darting with a graceful ease beneath the towering trees, leaping roots and tussocks and the bracken that lays like a blanket upon the forest floor. Before Thæon had a chance to really let loose; to press his knees together and hold himself steady, to lean up into the wind and laugh freely, the pair of them burst out into the meadow clearing, Obí throwing his wing’s wide to steady himself to stop, purring, laughing even, Thæon not far behind in laughter.

“That was amazing,” he breathes, somehow out of breath, his lungs pulling air as greedily as Obí. He leant forward, patting his neck firmly, running his fingers against his pulse point, tracing the shape of his jaw and scratching behind his ears where he can’t reach Obí’s muzzle. “Obí, you’re so fucking fast and so damn strong. I can’t believe it’s taken us weeks to go hunting, because that was fantastic.”

The praise comes easily; honest and adulated that wasn’t false or forced. Thæon slipped from his seating, still grinning, still feeling the buzz of having ridden a dragon; Obí playfully headbutting him, purring and crooning. Thæon catches his muzzle in his hands, rubbing his palms over each node, every bump, words fountaining from him in shared excitement. “You did it, Obí. I knew you could.”

Obí grinned at him, leaning in a way to bump his nose against Thæon’s chest, holding it there, looking up at him with bright fire-filled eyes. They are the colour of dawn, of cardinal wings; heavy in wisdom and happiness that echoes in words that Thæon cannot understand. And yet, somehow, he knows what Obí is trying to say.

He leans down to press his forehead against the bunt of Obí’s nose, whispering words for him and him alone.

“You’re welcome.”


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